Decoding the Mystery: Unveiling the Similarities and Differences Between Walleye and Pickerel

Is Walleye and Pickerel the Same Fish?

When it comes to fishing, one common question that often arises is whether walleye and pickerel are the same fish. Despite the confusion caused by regional differences in terminology, walleye and pickerel are not exactly the same fish but rather closely related species. In this article, we will delve into their distinguishing characteristics, habitats, behavior, and culinary uses to better understand how these two popular sportfish differ.

Distinguishing Characteristics


The scientific name for walleye is Sander vitreus. They have a distinct olive-brown coloration on their backs with a gold or yellowish hue on their sides. One of their distinctive features is their large eyes which possess a reflective layer called the tapetum lucidum that enhances low-light vision – hence their name “walleye.”


The term “pickerel” can be used interchangeably for different species based on your location. In North America, when people refer to pickerel they generally mean either chain pickerel (Esox niger) or grass pickerel (Esox americanus). These species closely resemble each other with dark green bodies marked by slender bars or chain-like patterns along their flanks.



Native to freshwater systems across Canada and northern parts of the United States, walleyes prefer cool waters found in lakes and rivers. They thrive in deep areas during daylight hours and move towards shallower regions during dawn and dusk where they feed actively.


  • Chain Pickerel: Found in the eastern part of North America, they inhabit slow-moving rivers, swamps, and lakes with abundant vegetation.
  • Grass Pickerel: Primarily found along the Atlantic coastal plain from southern New Jersey to Florida, these fish tend to favor aquatic plant beds and quiet waters.



Renowned for their nocturnal feeding habits, walleyes actively hunt their prey during low-light conditions. They possess excellent vision that allows them to detect movements underwater better than most other freshwater species.


  • Chain Pickerel: Known for their aggressive nature and voracious appetite, chain pickerels are ambush predators that hide amidst vegetation or structure waiting for unsuspecting prey to swim by.
  • Grass Pickerel: These smaller-sized pickerels are less predatory compared to their chain pickerel counterparts and mostly feed on small fish or invertebrates near aquatic plants.

Culinary Uses

In terms of culinary purposes, walleye is highly regarded as a delicious table fare due to its mild flavor and firm texture. It can be prepared in various ways such as pan-fried fillets or used in recipes like fish tacos or fish chowders. On the other hand, while some anglers do consume pickerel species like chain pickerels occasionally, they are generally not considered as popular food choices compared to walleyes.

The Verdict: Walleye vs Pickerel

To conclude our discussion on whether walleye and pickerel are the same fish, we can confidently say that they are related but distinct species. Walleye exhibit unique characteristics such as their reflective eyes and preference for cool depths, while pickerel encompass both chain and grass varieties with their own habitat preferences.

Regardless of these differences, anglers across North America appreciate both walleye and pickerel for their exciting sportfishing qualities. So next time you head out to catch one of these prized fish, you’ll have a better understanding of what sets them apart!